Category: multilingual

Last night my sister stopped over in Los Angeles en route to the Quechua village of Otovalo in Ecuador from Guangzhou in the Canton province of China and I strapped her down for an hour to ask her about her incredible crusade to study the textile trail for my podcast.

Vanessa is studying the semiotics of fashion in Halifax, Nova Scotia where she discovered the language of culture can be unzipped from the patterns found in textiles. From Chan Chan to Lake Titicaca in Peru to the mega-industrialized cities of Canton, there is a history of meaning woven into the very fabrics that under closer scrutiny reveals much about the culture. For example the pelicans find their way into Peruvian “mantas” – cloth used for everything from baby harnesses to satchels for carrying foodstuffs, because the behaviors of pelicans may reveal the stock of fish in a given body of water. The action of a certain animal running uphill may belie the coming of a storm. For these reasons, these systems of communication are transmitted in the images found in the weave.

The Inca Trailchina tower with cyclist
Machu Pichu, PeruQuechua indian and loom and Mastercard

Vanessa trekked four days up the Incan trail, not only laden with but constructed of a semi-precious green stone called Serpetina, to the mystic cloud city of Machu Pichu. She considered the flora and fauna along the way and how their colors and movements worked their way into the cloth.

At Lake Titicaca, the natives have created floating islands out of reeds where they have taken up permanent residence – powering their internet connection via solar panels. The implications of this are astounding and beyond the scope of this article. But consider what this means in light of a thing like the Principality of Sealand.

Although now some villages are using synthetic dyes and fibers, natural colors were created from insects to onions, from llama and alpaca wool – but now the global popularity of alpaca has forced prices to raise so high the the very natives who innovated use of the material can’t afford it.

A month later, Vanessa finds herself in Hong Kong en route to a tech convention in Guangzhou where the sky is, as she describes, a permanent ashen color from all the pollution to be found in the world’s central factory for technology. Nine-story high building filled with nothing but cell phone merchants bring on intense migraines and colossal skyscrapers – glass and steel wonders that put the best New York has to offer to shame follow the dictates of Feng Shui and yet these things remain virtually unknown and unseen by the Western world.

The Great Firewall of China has kept well-hidden the most heavily populated and among the most ancient cultures in the world and its accelerated modernization within the past ten years has led to extraordinary developments not only in tech but in street culture and ideas.

Textiles are made on looms and looms, which used punched cards to create the complex patterns used in textiles are essentially the precursor to today 8.9″ laptops, thus the patterns thereby created are miniature programs whose propriety belongs to those micro-cultures that developed them. To unlock these codes is to understand hidden knowledge about the world, language and development of a culture. In these times when thousands of unique languages are going extinct by the week, to learn to read these lines of code is to reveal much – to find the seeds for restoring their significance in the world.

I urge you to listen to this extraordinary interview with this designer on my podcast and explore further the possibilities and semiotics of fashion.

Listen to Episode 17 of the KeramCast – or subscribe at iTunes by searching for “KeramCast” in the podcast directory.

Crumb documentary by Terry ZwigoffCrumb – Dir: Terry Zwigoff

This is the film that first made me hyper-conscious of self-imposed, voluntary corporate branding as illustrator Robert Crumb observes that “these days” everyone is walking around wearing t-shirts and clothing advertising one company or another.  But the effects of this film cast a far wider net than mere corporate aversion.

Crumb is a complex man from a complex family; his two elder brothers are geniuses in their own right but each is also more mentally disturbed than the next which leads me to wonder, in this case with much greater emphasis than normal, whether it is the the anomalies and deviations from what is considered a “healthy, normal” mind that give rise to great art or whether it is the life of an artist that give rise to mental instability.  Of course there is no definitive answer but this film’s utterly deviant subjects underline that the two are hardly mutually exclusive. Required viewing.

In the Realms of the Unreal - documentary by Jessica YuIn the Realms of the Unreal – The Mystery of Henry Darger – Dir: Jessica Yu

Continuing on this theme of mental instability and visionary creativity, here we have as our subject an ascetic, anti-social man about whom even his lifelong neighbors knew very little.

A janitor and avid church-goer, no one knew, until he was moved to a convalescent home in his final weeks on Earth, that in his single apartment he had written a fifteen-thousand page fantasy novel with profoundly complex and beautiful illustrations wherein all the young girls who were the subjects of his very innocent-spirited magnum opus (and even that is understatement) had penises – more than likely because he didn’t know better.  The study of his work is a study of how the mind attempts to heal it wounds – Darger was sent to boarding schools and even a sanitarium in his childhood – all of which he works out in the course of his book.

Rivers and Tides - a documentaryRivers and Tides – Dir: Thomas Riedelsheimer

This documentary about nature-artist Andy Goldsworthy will, unequivocally change your life. using only things found in the natural world, he synchronizes himself with the patterns found in the world and ultimately finds a way to render found objects in a manner that pursues and underlines their energy.

Not only is it a fitting introduction to this extraordinary soul, but Fred Frith’s score perfectly punctuates this delicate process throughout.

Highly recommended. Beautiful beyond belief.

Surfwise - documentary by Doug PraySurfwise: The Amazing True Odyssey of the Paskowitz Family – Dir: Doug Pray

Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz is another man who turned his back on the conventions of society and decided to raise his nine children in a dilapidated RV, teaching them what he felt were the true values and virtues of life.  An expert surfer, and Stanford-educated physician who was head of the medical association in Hawaii, Paskowitz’ extraordinarily liberal views manifested different results in each of his children.  Living on a strict organic food regimen and making do with as little money as possible, this is a study in what it might mean to live virtually off the grid, for better or worse, and whether or not that is any longer possible.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill - a documentary by Judy IrvingThe Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill – Dir: Judy Irving

Concerning the life of homeless musician Mark Bittner who befriends a wild flock of stray parrots that live in San Francisco city proper.  What begins with a seemingly innocuous birdseed hobby becomes a life unto itself and he transforms into a kind of Francis of Assissi to this displaced, growing flock.  He conjectures the flock began as a group of runaway pets that found each other and eventually began breeding in the wild.  Mark champions them when public outcries by environmentalists to exterminate them so as to ensure the stability of the local ecosystem take on City Hall.  This film teaches a lot more than birdkeeping, however, as it observes what dynamics may unfold when we open our arms and our hearts to realities of the present and the abundance that exists in our ever changing world.